Laughton out to prove he should stay with Flyers

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Laughton out to prove he should stay with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- It was Jan. 27. Scott Laughton was in Tampa, Fla.

He remembers it well. And he doesn’t want it to happen again.

“I remember the exact moment I was walking around and I got a call,” Laughton said. “And I just sat down with [GM Paul] Holmgren and talked about how I was going to go back to junior.”

Laughton, the center whom the Flyers selected 20th overall in the 2012 draft, learned he would be going back to the Oshawa Generals that day upon returning home from Florida. He wouldn't be staying with the Flyers for a sixth game.

There had been plenty of debate about whether Laughton, who averaged 11:31 on the ice and fit in seamlessly with the Flyers, would remain past the dreaded game No. 5. Per NHL rules, underage junior-level players can play nine games before a year is burned off their entry-level contracts. For last year’s lockout-shortened season, that number was cut to five.

In the end, the Flyers decided Laughton would be better served by playing top-six minutes and collecting time on special teams with the Generals. Even knowing the then-18-year-old would have spent a fair amount of time on the bench or in the press box had he stayed with the Flyers, the decision was a tough one.

“I think that he made a real strong impression on all of us,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He proved that he could skate, he could compete, that he was smart enough to jump into a lineup like that and play games.

“Going back and getting another year and getting stronger and more experience at that level, but to be more mature, more physically mature, I think that only helps him coming back to this year."

Unfortunately for Laughton, most of the Flyers’ roster for the 2013-14 season is set. Fortunately, though, the coaches and front office liked a lot of what they saw from him last year, and he will be getting a lot of looks during this week’s rookie camp -- which opened Friday -- and next week’s full team camp.

Laughton knows that. If any of the 26 participants in rookie camp make it to the Flyers' Oct. 2 season opener, chances are it will be him. And that's what he's trained for all summer, not just improving his strength and conditioning, but focusing on the areas of his game he knows he must take to the next level to succeed in the NHL.

He worked with a new trainer. He put on weight. He focused on improving his net presence.

“[I’m] definitely more confident, more comfortable,” he said. “I think I’m better in the offensive zone, definitely, and I think I’ve stuck with the defensive game -- I’m not cheating the puck or anything like that. I think staying on the offensive side, I’ve been better for sure.”

Though so much attention has been paid to the Flyers' defense and how the team is suddenly fully stocked -- if not overstocked -- on the blue line, the Flyers are particularly strong at center as well. Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier, Sean Couturier and Max Talbot are all technically ahead of Laughton on the depth chart at center.

At least thus far, however, Laughton has refrained from playing around with the Flyers' lineup and imagining how and where he might fit into it.

“I don’t think I need to,” he said. “I think my job is clear here, to try to get a spot on the team, and that’s the ultimate goal. I don’t need to look at the roster and see what’s going on. I’ve just got to do my job every day, and I hope it works out.”

There have already been plenty of discussions about Laughton's future, and whether 2013 could be the year he makes the full transition from juniors to pro. There have been so many, in fact, that the Flyers' front office has already begun to consider whether it could be worth moving Laughton from center to left wing, just to keep him around.

"Paul and I talked about that, and I think that’s something that we’ll look at and consider through training camp here," Laviolette said. "But he’s a centerman, that’s his natural position, and he’s going to be given plenty of opportunity to play center here."

That's OK with Laughton. And so too is a move to left wing -- even though he's never played it before.

After all, he said, “the ultimate goal is clear: just to make this team.”

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

Best of NHL: Wild beat Blackhawks to grab 1st place in Western Conference

CHICAGO -- Jason Pominville scored in the third period, Devan Dubnyk made 33 saves and the Minnesota Wild beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Sunday night to grab sole possession of the top spot in the Western Conference.

Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart also scored as Minnesota earned its fourth straight win and improved to 17-1-1 since Dec. 4. The Wild also beat the Blackhawks for the eighth straight time.

Minnesota (28-9-5) jumped in front for good when Marco Scandella shot the puck behind the net and it caromed right to Pominville standing all alone on the right side of the crease. He knocked it into the open net for his sixth of the season at 5:08.

Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter was sent off for tripping with 22.4 seconds left, but Chicago was unable to get a good look with a 6-on-4 advantage.

Patrick Kane scored twice for the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 29 stops (see full recap).

Hall nets OT winner as Devils top Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Taylor Hall scored 1:28 into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 2=1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

Skating on a 2-on-1 with Damon Severson, Hall chose to hold the puck and beat Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom through the legs.

Kyle Quincey scored the tying goal with 3:03 left in the second period and Cory Schneider stopped 21 shots to help the Devils win their second straight after losing four in a row.

Loui Eriksson scored for the Canucks and Markstrom finished with 20 saves for the Canucks, losers of four straight after winning six in a row coming out of the holiday break (see full recap).

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

Flyers Weekly Observations: Everything coming apart at the seams

That week was… not pretty.

Not by a long shot.

The Flyers’ busy week saw them play five games in an eight-day stretch and come out on the winning side of things just once. Overall, the Flyers went 1-3-1 last week with a 2-1 overtime loss in Columbus, a disheartening 4-1 defeat in Buffalo, a wild 5-4 shootout win over visiting Vancouver, an ugly 6-3 loss in Boston and an even uglier 5-0 loss in Washington.

There’s a lot to digest in this week’s Flyers Weekly Observations, and, needless to say, not much of it is good.

Where to even begin?

• Let’s start with Shayne Gostisbehere’s benching on Saturday afternoon in Boston, the second healthy scratch of the season for last season’s runner up to the Calder Trophy. Let’s face it, the 23-year-old defenseman has not played great this season. He’s struggled mightily defensively and he’s had a miserable time hitting the net in the offensive zone, among other warts in his game. He’s obviously not alone. After all, this 3-8-3 skid is rooted in shoddy defensive play in all zones. But he has not played well. We all know offense is Gostisbehere’s strength, but he’s got just four goals and 15 assists in 46 games. And he’s sporting a minus-17 after Sunday's loss. Dave Hakstol is obviously not happy with his young defenseman’s game and figured the best course of action would be to let Gostisbehere sit down, observe and clear his head. And I get that thought process. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But I’m of the belief it’s best to let a young player play through his struggles. Gostisbehere’s going to have to get used to doing that because this will not be the only time in his career he will struggle. It happens to every player, even the best ones. And it’s even tougher to defend Ghost’s benching with as poorly as Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning played in the previous game against Vancouver.

• Speaking of which, those stick penalties Del Zotto and Manning took over and over again in the first period against the Canucks were just careless and put the Flyers into a hole that could have been a lot deeper if not for the play of the penalty kill and Steve Mason. That’s the stuff that can just kill a team, and that’s the stuff that’s also very avoidable.

• One play really stuck out to me during Saturday’s loss to the Bruins in Beantown. The Flyers were down 5-3 early in the third period and attacking in the Bruins' zone when Jake Voracek hit Sean Couturier with a slick cross-ice pass. Couturier had net to shoot at and a chance to cut it to a one-goal game, but instead skated to the side of the net and backhanded the puck into the crowded slot and turned it over. When you’re down two in the third period, you need to shoot there. Even if Tuukka Rask stops it, you never know if there’s going to be a rebound. It was an example of how Couturier needs to be more aggressive offensively on a consistent basis. Especially after he was aggressive against Vancouver with a goal and a post hit after a beautiful offensive rush.

• What was that effort in Buffalo on Tuesday night? Credit the improving Sabres for playing well and earning the win, but the Flyers were just lifeless out there on the ice.

• Let’s chat some about those goalie interference calls that didn’t go the Flyers’ way in Columbus last weekend. Michael Raffl was squeezed into Sergei Bobrovsky and barely made contact with the Jackets’ goalie on the first one. Raffl is entitled to that space just as much as anyone else on the ice. It’s a hockey play, plain and simple. No idea how that one was overturned. Contact was made with Mason’s skate on the second one, but I believe that call was eventually correct as the goal stood. The problem is this: They were two similar plays with limited contact made with the goaltender. The league can’t have one count there and one not. The league is creating itself a very unnecessary grey area with those calls.

• On the NBC national telecast of Sunday’s debacle in Washington, analyst Brian Boucher said something to the effect of the Flyers were in the process of quitting the game after the Caps’ fourth goal, which was scored early in the third period. And it was hard to disagree him with what we all saw. Things can become fragile over these kinds of skids and it just seems recently when one thing goes wrong with for the Flyers, everything comes apart at the seams.

• Brayden Schenn’s stat line so far this season is uneven, literally. He’s got 14 goals on the season, but a league-leading 11 have come on the power play. So that’s 79 percent of Schenn’s goal-scoring coming on the man advantage. That’s obviously great for when the Flyers are on the power play, but with how they’re averaging 1.79 goals per game over this recent 3-8-3 stretch, that could really use it at even strength. That goes for everybody.

• I’m not sure how I feel about the bye week. On one hand, it comes at the right time as the Flyers can rest, recharge and get their heads straight after this awful stretch. On the other hand, it’s no secret this team could REALLY use the practice time right now just to get back to the basics and for the players just to get their footing back underneath themselves. They’ll next be able to practice Friday afternoon.

Coming up this week: Saturday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m./TCN), Sunday at New York Islanders (6 p.m./CSN)